Westwood up and running at US PGA Championship
England’s Lee Westwood is currently the joint leader at the US PGA Championship after a six-under-par 65 on day one left him a solitary shot ahead of world no.1 Rory McIlroy.
41-year-old Westwood shares a three-way tie of the lead as American duo Kevin Chappell and Ryan Palmer look to take an advantage.
On a mixed first day, Tiger Woods struggled to a 74, while Nike’s other top player McIlroy finished with five birdies in seven holes and is tied for fourth alongside England’s Chris Wood.
Edoardo Molinari, Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson are also five under par. Defending champion Jason Dufner was forced to withdraw with a neck injury following his first 10 holes with an eight over score.
It’s now very likely that Westwood, who fired a final-round 63 in Ohio this past Sunday, will automatically qualify for his ninth consecutive Ryder Cup, which is due to take place at Gleneagles next month.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Westwood said: "I've played better rounds of golf but I was really pleased with today. I've started to feel like my swing was coming around. That 63 obviously gave me some confidence coming into this week."
Nine players quality automatically for Paul McGinley’s European team, with his three wildcard picks set to be announced on 3 September.
25-year-old McIlroy, who has showed such great from this season, went out in three under par before a double-bogey at 10 and a bogey at 11 sent his score, as well as his good mood, tumbling down the leaderboard. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, as McIlroy showed good recovery powers to rattle off four consecutive birdies between 12 and 15 – just missing a long eagle putt at the last.
"I was really annoyed," McIlroy said. "It was actually a bit of a shock, it's the worst shot I have hit the last few weeks. It came out of the blue and knocked me off track but to come back the way I did was great.
"It could have been a couple better but if those last few putts had dropped but 66 is a solid start."
England’s Wood, who currently sits 90th in the world, did not drop a single shot and also made five birdies, having missed the cut in two of his three previous US PGA outings.
Tom Watson’s worries deepen
Jason Dufner will be watching a new winner at the PGA crowned after being forced off with injury – which also means he could be set to miss out on the Ryder Cup. The 37-year-old joins Matt Kuchar on the side lines after the American decided to take some time off from golf to sort out some personal issues in his life, and this has added to the mounting problems for Tom Watson as he must try to marry together a strong USA Ryder Cup team.
Callaway Golf’s Phil Mickelson, who won the US PGA in 2005, is hoping he can nail down a place in the Ryder Cup team without relying on a wildcard pick. He carded a decent 69 to finish four shots behind the early pacesetters, but looks in good form to challenge as the days progress.
The chasing pack
Elsewhere on the course, Cobra Golf’s Ian Poulter, who missed the cut at last month’s Open Championship at Hoylake, opened with a very encouraging 68; equalling fellow Englishman Danny Willett and Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
Jamie Donaldson of Wales birdied the last for a two-under 69, the same as American Rickie Fowler. The colourful PUMA golfer was joint runner-up at Hoylake in this year’s US Open.
England’s Justin Rose and Spain’s TaylorMade Sergio Garcia, who finished in the runner-up position to McIlroy in his last two events, also carded 70’s.
Former world no.1 Adam Scott opened his account with a level-par 71, while Tom Watson put in a good performance to end the day with a one-over-par 72.
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